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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

25 June 2014

5 Tips for Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Contributor Shannon Whitehead

Dhana Eco Kids


Fashion brand consultant and business expert Shannon Whitehead helped an early-stage fashion company to launch a range of products into a new market. Here, Shannon offers some key lessons learned about knowing your market and being adaptable. Image: SOURCE Founding Partner, Dhana Eco Kids


Getting Started.

In January, I started working with an early-stage startup based in California. We committed to a one-month sourcing project in which I would help them find organic cotton jersey to create a line of eco-friendly baby clothes. They were ideal clients — focused, organised, driven and ready to move fast.

The founder already owned a successful bow tie company, and she was looking to get into a new market with ample opportunity for growth. All of her research pointed to sustainable baby clothing. It’s resoundingly popular in Europe and she figured it’s only a matter of time before the U.S. catches on.

Because I was testing out the early stages of an accelerator program that I was creating for the summer, our work together was intensive. In addition to sourcing, we had weekly Q+A calls for troubleshooting, brainstorming and problem solving, as well as 24/7 email support for any issues that came up.

During our calls, we dug deep. We asked hard questions about market demand, considered cost and target price points, and hashed out the feasibility of competing with the ‘big guys.’

We got real about the end goal, the values and mission behind the company, and what made the most sense for where they wanted to go.

By the time we reached week three of the project the entire vision had shifted. The business model had transformed from a line of eco-friendly baby clothing to an e-commerce marketplace of curated eco-friendly baby clothing. There was newfound clarity, purpose and drive to deliver what the market demanded and to do it differently.

The early stages are the easiest time to reroute. Don’t miss the turnoff.

My clients could have looked at the hours of research they had already put into sourcing swatches and contacting suppliers as a time investment they couldn’t walk away from. But instead of lamenting about the hours lost, they focused on the hours gained.

In the grand scheme of their business, they had saved a lot more time abandoning the original idea rather than holding on and letting go later.

Reframe challenges as opportunities. It becomes your story.

They started to look at the situation critically when they realised how difficult it would be to manufacture a line of eco-friendly baby clothing at the affordable price point and an initial order number they were targeting. They would be small players in the marketplace. There were already larger and more seasoned companies in the space. And they saw an opportunity to innovate.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, openings to opportunities are often disguised as bumps in the road. Don’t hold onto the dream so tightly that you can’t see the better option on the other side.

You will lose money. You will waste money. It’s all a part of the process.

Whoever said, “You have to spend money to make money” was right. You also have to lose it, waste it, and spend it the wrong way.

At first glance, my clients could have realised we were more than halfway through our work together and they had paid me for a service they didn’t need anymore. Not to mention, we still had another two weeks in our contract.

Instead of dwelling on it, they asked if we could update the deliverables to fit the new business model. Of course we did, and by the time we wrapped up the project, we had made enough traction to make up for the time spent sourcing.

The next idea is usually better than the one before it.

The evolution of ideas usually indicates growth and improvement. In most cases, your end product will differ from your initial vision. That’s how it should be. With experience, market response, product testing and additional research, your ideas will get better if you don’t succumb to tunnel vision.

One of the greatest downfalls of entrepreneurship is being so “in love” with your idea that you can’t see room for improvement.

Your customers will tell you what your USP is. So get your product out into the world.

Your unique selling proposition isn’t always obvious. Or you think it’s one thing and the market tells you it’s something completely different.

If you listen to the response of your customers, they will happily tell you. Oftentimes, it’s more important to get your offering out into the world, so you can gather feedback, reevaluate, adapt and rework. Done is always better than perfect.

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About Shannon Whitehead:

Shannon Whitehead is the founder of Factory45, an accelerator program that gives independent makers the resources to start sustainable businesses in the USA. Shannon got her start in 2010 when she co-founded {r}evolution apparel, a sustainable clothing company for female travelers and minimalists that was featured in The New York Times, Forbes.com, TheWallStreetJournal.com and Yahoo! News. Shannon has appeared as a speaker at the World Education Congress, ECO Fashion Week, SXSW, and as a guest lecturer at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. Applications for Factory45 are now open until April 28, 2014.


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